One of the most notable things about IBM's latest smart grid project isn't necessarily the size of the effort -- the utility it is working with, Progress Energy, is putting in more than $520 million -- it is the comprehensive nature of the initiative. This is NOT your average smart metering project. It involves a focus on managing power quality and in addressing distribution management, so that Progress will be able to handle the addition of renewable energy sources as well as the impact of plug-in electric vehicles.
"We are really starting to see our clients broaden their thinking when it comes to the smart grid," said Michael Valocchi, energy and utilities industry lead for IBM's Global Business Services Unit, when I spoke with him about the project. "Last year, there was an uptick in the distribution part of the business. Now we are starting to see utilities put things together."
It should know: IBM now is involved with more than 150 different smart grid initiatives in both major and emerging economies.
Its deal with Progress Energy covers the efforts of two utilities in the Carolinas and Florida. Aside from the money that the utility is putting in on its own, the project includes $200 million from a smart grid grant that was awarded by the United States Department of Energy as part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. The core focus is on making power distribution smarter and more reliable. The specific technologies involved include distribution management, advanced metering, meter data management, and demand response applications.
IBM is doing everything in its power to be as smart as possible about the best practices that utilities can apply to make smart grids smarter. That's one of the motivations for the Global IUN Coalition that it formed in 2007 to get its utility customers talking to each other. This week, two more utilities joined the consortium: TEPCO (aka Tokyo Electric Power Co.) and KEPCO (Korea Electric Power Corp.) There are about 150 million energy customers represented by the coalition members.
In the press release about the coalition, Guido Bartels, general manager of IBM's energy and utilities industry, and chairman of the global smart grid federation said:
"The utilities in this coalition are all assembled around a common purpose and that's to enable new smart grid initiatives at a more rapid pace, to adopt open, industry-based standards, and to shape government policies and regulation. Each member brings new expertise that helps other members achieve these goals in their respective markets."
Valocchi says the coalition meets at least twice a year to share ideas; for example, it created a smart grid maturity model that utilities can use to benchmark their smart grid activities. The group will remain limited to a select number of utilities although there are still some geographic holes to be filled from a representation standpoint. China is one obvious example, he says.